What started as a miniscule-budget anthology for up-and-coming genre directors has become one of the premiere franchises on streaming. Following V/H/S/94 and V/H/S/99 in 2021 and 2022, V/H/S/85 jumps back a decade for another fist of found-footage carnage. And no longer is it only the freshest of faces involved. Directors like Scott Derrickson of Sinister and The Black Phone fame and David Bruckner of The Night House and the reimagined Hellraiser are among the most established filmmakers of the modern generation of horror. In terms of quality, the good news is that it’s one of the most consistent entries in the series. The bad news is also that it’s one of the most consistent entries in the series, as there isn’t one segment that stands out in particular.
Bruckner is first up with ‘Total Copy’, the closest thing V/H/S/85 has to a wraparound narrative. Taking the form of a mockumentary which draws on classics like The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers as scientific hubris meets a shape-shifting alien. It sets the visual tone of the anthology nicely, as it plays like a palimpsest recording on a much-used blank tape, with the ghosts of earlier programmes occasionally peering through. While perfectly fine, it’s unfortunately not one of the stronger sections, and it’s disappointingly generic coming from the man behind the eerily inventive The Night House.
Next up is a comparative newcomer. Mike P. Nelson, of the rebooted 2021 Wrong Turn gives us an idyllic lakeside holiday that becomes a bloodbath in ‘No Wake’, before picking up the thread in unexpected ways in a later segment. Really nailing the spirit of an occasion being recorded for posterity by a lone camera, the limited field of vision amps up the confusion and fear as a group of young revellers get systematically targeted by a patient sniper. It’s a visceral scene of plausible terror which gets flipped on its head in a pleasing manner just as you start to get your breath back. ‘No Wake’ has a real claim to being just about the strongest entry.
Mexican filmmaker Gigi Saul Guerrero (Bingo Hell) taps into real world horror in ‘God of Death’ which sees a TV crew trying to escape from collapsed studio during the Mexico City earthquake of September 19, 1985. Like ‘No Wake’, ‘God of Death’ turns a terrifyingly imaginable situation on its head, by including an awakened deity from Mexico’s pre-modernity. The result comes on like an entertaining blend of [Rec} and Larry Cohen‘s Q: The Winged Serpent as present and past collide.
Another vengeful god appears in ‘TKNOGD’ from Natasha Kermani (who gave us the excellent Lucky in 2020), albeit a much more modern one. A performance artist rails against the technical age through the means of rudimentary VR, only to come up against the god of this new tech. Referring to her VR goggles as ‘eye phones’ will raise a smile, as will the Tron-level visuals in this brisk and nasty little morsel.
The last full section before we return to ‘Total Copy’ to round things off is Scott Derrickson’s ‘Dreamkill’. Derrickson mines his own filmography, repurposing the aesthetic of the horrific and now iconic home videos of Sinister to a serial killer narrative that cheats in terms of being truly found footage, but rivals Nelson’s section as the most truly disturbing. The grisly violence is made worse both by the grime and grain of the video quality and by the deeply disquieting use of Throbbing Gristle‘s ‘Hamburger Lady‘ as a backdrop. Probably the most ambitious in terms of its storytelling
So, while there might be nothing that comes remotely close to the now legendary ‘Safe Haven‘ from V/H/S/2, there are no blatant clunkers here either. That probably weirdly means it’ll end up as one of the less memorable of the series. With everything running at a general level of good, there are no peaks and troughs at which to get excited/angry. Of the recent entries, it’s overall of a higher general quality than 99, but not on a level with 94. But you will have a good time.
Screening on Shudder from Fri 6 Oct 2023